As a gay man who is relatively new to being out of the closet, it’s been just over four years, I have quickly become an activist for fair and equal treatment of gay and lesbian people. Much of the work I have done has been online in discussion forums, and face to face with friends and acquaintances who are struggling with their prejudices as they realize they can no longer apply those to gay people, especially when their friend comes out of the closet. I have protested at the state capitol, attended the church trial of a minister accused of marrying two women, and marched in protest outside of a rally in which James Dobson was the main speaker. Much of what I’ve learned comes from Soulforce, where I am a moderator of discussion forums, and it’s founder, Rev. Mel White. Soulforce believes in achieving freedom from religious oppression through nonviolent resistance, in the tradtions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Recently, I found myself in a situation that has caused me to employ the principles of nonviolent resistance. As I was exploring those principles, looking for clues as to the best course of action, I began to reflect about the roles of the Oppressor and the Oppressed. I saw myself in the role of the oppressed, and I was resenting the fact that it fell upon me to aid my oppressor. That aid was not meant to assist in my continued oppression, but rather to educate the oppressor and move them from that role. It felt so unfair. I did all the work to come out of the closet, live life honestly as a gay man, overcome the fears of being rejected by friends and family, erase the memories of bullying I experienced as a teenager, and now I was being called on to help my tormentors. Surely, they could do the work themselves. Google is available to everyone, isn’t it? But what I discovered as I started doing the research for my own nonviolent resistance, as well as for writing about my experience, is that Oppressors are often blind to their power and privilege. The oppressor has the power to define their social situation which leaves them morally pretentious and ethically obtuse. (see John C. Raines, Righteous Resistance and Martin Luther King, Jr.)
I am a music director for a small, upper middle class church. I have been the music director for many years. These good people knew me as a married man with children, although they had their suspicions about my orientation, and handled my separation and divorce pretty well. They even took the news of my outting with only minor struggles. The congregation was able to accept the concept of a gay man not only in their midst, but in a visible position at worship on Sunday mornings. This peaceful existance has lasted these past four years. But now I’ve pushed past the conceptual homosexuality and have introduced them to the reality of my life. My partner has begun attending church with me.
One would think that this wouldn’t be a huge problem. Of all the ways people tend to view being gay, church attendance would most likely be a check in the positive column for a couple of gay guys. Think being gay is a sin? then it’s a good thing those sinners are attending church. Think being gay is neutral? attending church is harmless, and may be a positive force in their lives. Think being gay is a natural occurence, perhaps even planned as part of God’s creation? then gay folks should honor their Creator by attending worship. I just can’t think of any reason that Gay and Lesbian people of faith should not attend church, either separately or as a couple.
Yet, word has gotten back to me that a few people are so upset by our attendance at worship that it became the topic of discussion at an Elder’s meeting. My own dear Pastor has given me a “heads up” on this, and we had a meeting to discuss what we might do. This is where my sense of justice/injustice has kicked in. This is the circumstance that has me wrestling with the idea of the oppressed aiding the oppressor.
Oppression causes harm to the oppressed and the oppressor. Oppressors lose when they cause harm. In this situation, should those who resent a gay couple attending church persist, the church will lose a voice from the choir, and most likely, lose their faithful music director. There are more ramifications to this for the congregation, but for now let’s leave it at two people, making positive contributions, being driven away from the fellowship.
The oppressed have many obstacles to overcome as they fight for justice. Being in a position of powerlessness brings with it a lack of clarity about the condition of the oppressed. The oppressed may believe what the oppressor has said about them. The gay community recognizes this as internalized homophobia. If the oppressed succomb to the temptation to exact revenge, they merely usurp the power of the oppressor and become like them, creating more injustice. The lack of clarity about the unjust situation can cause loneliness and isolation. The oppressed do not want to see the lives of others like themselves, the wounds are a much too explicit reminder of their own pain. Oppression causes a mute suffering, leaving the oppressed unable to name what it is that oppresses them, unable to declare the reality of their condition, and unable to protest the indignities that are foist upon them.
Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that the oppressed have a moral obligation to the oppressor. It is impossible to meet that obligation without having a clear and objective understanding of the injustice of the situation. This focus enables the oppressed to name the plight, proclaim the immorality of it, and oppose it. When this is done, the oppressed are able to unite and stand against their oppressors in nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. showed that having clarity about the oppression is enough to unite the community. It allows an oppressed group to stand in their own dignity and protest the injury of injustice. The oppressed become moral agents and then have an obligation to the oppressors to teach them that their ways are immoral. The goal becomes of greater moral importance then: reconciliation.
I am still in the stages of examining my emotions about the situation at church, my hurt that my relationship could be the topic of discussion at an Elder’s meeting, the pain at knowing good people are engaged in gossip, yet have never approached me with their concerns when the Bible clearly teaches us to go to each other in love. I can not say at this point, that I have been successful, because the journey is just beginning. However, I am making a plan, and I believe, because of the things I’ve learned, that I will be successful, and that success will be demonstrated in reconciliation, not in conquering anyone.
Communication is key. I have taken steps to open the lines of communication with at least one person that I know is “struggling” with seeing me with my partner at church. In her discussion of that struggle with the Elders, she imposes a situation of oppression on my partner and I as a couple, and as we’ve seen above, the entire congregation suffers. I’ve provided her with information that demonstrates what we all know: the Bible is not a text book for science or psychology; the few scripture verses that address homosexual activity are for a certain time and place and do not address homosexual orientation as we know it; homosexuality is recognized by all the professional medical and psychological organizations as being an affectional orientation that carries no moral stigma and is not considered a mental health disorder. To cling to such beliefs is in effect just using the scriptures to justify one’s own prejudices and bigotry. Along with that packet of information I have issued and invitation to meet, perhaps with our Pastor as a mediator, and discuss her fears, my anger, and come to some reconciliation.
That is just one person. There will be others. For them, perhaps a different plan will be needed. Each person that I speak to may require a slightly different method. For one, appealing to the emotions may work, for another, a more academic approach will be beneficial. At all times, the goal is claiming that moral ground, in nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Gandhi and MLK Jr. and looking for the opportunity for reconciliation, for agreement. I am convinced that these men have taught us that nonviolent resistance offers us the best chance for success. Our adversaries are not evil, only misinformed. Once they have assimilated this new information, they will understand our plight and become supporters instead of adversaries. Should they choose to remain in their ignorance, it will become clear to others that they have chosen to remain oppressors. Justice does indeed prevail.
What direction will this journey take? That remains to be seen. I do not know if I will be there to see the fruits of my actions. I may be like those ministers in I Corinthians 3, as one plants the seed, another waters it, and God provides the growth. I hope that I can revisit this subject in the near future and report some success. For now, I can only speak of my plans and my hopes for this journey.